The first carbon nanotube processor


A 4-inch plate contains microprocessors made of carbon nanotubes.
Miniaturization of electronics is the main driving force of the computer revolution, it allowed us to achieve the current power and energy efficiency of computers. And although progress in silicon microcircuits is still ongoing, more advanced electronics manufacturing technologies are emerging.

One of the most promising areas is carbon nanotubes. Scientists have already assembled individual transistors from them (the first was shown in 1998) and made sure that the unique material provides much higher energy efficiency at the same speed as silicon transistors.

But now a historical event has occurred, which is likely to be included in textbooks. A group of scientists from Stanford University has assembled the first ever full-fledged processor entirely made of carbon nanotubes. Scientific work deservedly fell on the cover of today's issue of Nature magazine .


Nature magazine cover image, carbon nanotube processor image from a scanning electron microscope, processed in a graphical editor
Real photo from a scanning microscope
Logical diagram of the processor

Like the first-ever tube computers, this processor has very weak technical characteristics and ridiculous performance. In fact, he performs arithmetic operations even more slowly than a person. The processor frequency is only 1 kHz (but it is dual-threaded). But this is still a fundamentally important conceptual achievement, which opens a new page in the history of computer technology.

The carbon nanotube processor assembled at Stanford consists of only 178 transistors. This is enough to perform 20 operations from the standard MIPS set (see diagram below) - at least so many have already been tested on a carbon microcircuit, so that you can run quite complex programs on it.

Article on the Nature website (paid access), mirror 1 , mirror 2 .


Running the bubble sort algorithm

For comparison, here's what the world's first integrated circuit looked like, for which Jack Kilby received the Nobel Prize in 2000.


So every big business starts with a small first step.